What Is Elder Neglect Under California Law?

California is home to one of the largest and fastest-growing aging populations in the United States. The elderly may find themselves dealing with physical, emotional, and financial challenges and exploitation. This might make it difficult for them to maintain their independence and may lead many seniors to be more reliant on caregivers or family members.

As the population ages, we’re likely to see more elder neglect cases arising, which inspires the state to address the pressing issues surrounding elder abuse and neglect. But how does California define elder abuse and neglect? The state has listed the types of elder neglect that California law recognizes as well as the warning signs and symptoms.

Urban areas, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, and rural regions have their own set of problems. In urban areas, there are issues related to high population density and increased anonymity, while rural areas may have challenges accessing resources and services.

Know more about elder neglect under California law and be aware of how to protect the rights and well-being of our elderly population.

Definition of Elder Neglect in California

California Penal Code Section 368, addresses crimes against elderly or dependent adults. The section defines elder neglect as the failure to provide necessary care and assistance to an older adult, resulting in harm or endangerment to their wellbeing.

It occurs when a caregiver, whether it be a family member, healthcare provider, or facility staff, fails to fulfill their duty to provide proper care and support to an older adult. Under California law, elder neglect is considered a form of elder abuse and is illegal.

It includes acts of omission, where necessary care isn’t provided, as well as acts of commission, where intentional harm is inflicted upon the elderly person. Neglect can take various forms, such as the failure to provide food, medication, or adequate supervision, as well as the failure to address their physical and emotional needs.

Types of Elder Neglect Recognized by California Law

Under California law, various types of elder neglect are recognized and addressed for the protection and well-being of these vulnerable populations:

  • Physical Neglect: It is the failure to provide basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. This also includes the failure to provide necessary medical care or assistance with personal hygiene.
  • Emotional Neglect: It refers to the failure to provide emotional support, companionship, or social interaction. This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in older adults.
  • Financial Exploitation: When caregivers or family members misuse an elderly person’s funds or assets for their own benefit.
  • Self-neglect: Where an older adult is unable to care for themselves due to physical or mental limitations.

Signs and Symptoms of Elder Neglect

Neglect can take many forms and there are warning signs that may indicate a senior is experiencing neglect. 

  • Bedsores or Pressure Ulcers: These painful sores develop when a person isn’t properly turned or repositioned, leading to skin breakdown.
  • Poor Personal Hygiene: If an older adult isn’t being bathed regularly, has dirty clothes, or unkempt hair, it could be a red flag for neglect.
  • Malnutrition and Dehydration: Weight loss, dry mouth, and sunken eyes are indicators that an elder isn’t receiving adequate food and fluids.
  • Unexplained Injuries: Bruises, cuts, or fractures may suggest physical abuse or neglect.
  • Changes in Behavior: Withdrawal, depression, or anxiety, can be signs of emotional neglect.

Reporting Elder Neglect in California

Be vigilant and report any signs or symptoms of elder neglect to protect vulnerable individuals from further harm and holding the responsible parties accountable for their actions. To report elder neglect in California, you can take several steps.

  1. Contact Adult Protective Services (APS) in your county. APS is a government agency that investigates allegations of elder abuse and neglect. They have the authority to intervene and provide necessary services to protect the victim.
  2. You can also report elder neglect to local law enforcement agencies, such as the police department or sheriff’s office. They can conduct their own investigation and take appropriate legal action if necessary.
  3. Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and social workers, are mandated reporters of elder neglect. If they suspect or witness any form of elder neglect, they are legally obligated to report it to the appropriate authorities.

Legal Consequences for Elder Neglect in California

The legal consequences for elder neglect in California can result in severe penalties for those found responsible. They may face both civil and criminal consequences.

  • Civil consequences can include being sued by the victim or their family for damages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. These lawsuits can result in heavy financial burdens and reputational damage.
  • Criminal charges can also be filed against individuals who neglect elderly individuals. Under California law, elder neglect can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the neglect and the harm caused to the elderly person.
  • Misdemeanor charges can result in a sentence of up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $6,000. Felony charges can lead to a state prison sentence of up to four years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
  • California law also requires certain professionals, such as healthcare providers and caretakers, to report elder neglect. If they fail to report elder neglect, it can lead to misdemeanor charges, including fines and possibly imprisonment.


Elder neglect is a serious issue under California law. There are signs and symptoms of elder neglect to be aware of and to report any suspicions to the appropriate authorities.

California law recognizes various types of elder neglect and imposes legal consequences for those found guilty of elder neglect. The well-being and safety of our elderly population should be prioritized, and to prevent and address elder neglect, action needs to be taken.


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